Jesus proclaimed and enacted the reign and rule of heaven: 'The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news!'
The kingdom, that which the prophets looked forward to, God's future in the present, looks and sounds like something.
For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. - Matthew 13:17
Once the followers of John the Baptist approached Jesus and asked if the kingdom had arrived.
When the men came to Jesus, they said, 'John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’'
At that very time, Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'
Jesus is clear. He is the one who is to come, the Messiah - the long-awaited king who is bringing the kingdom. The kingdom is made manifest as those marginalized through disability, feeling as if they have been cursed and under judgment, are now blessed and can participate fully in the life of the community. Those with skin diseases, judged as unholy and outsiders, are now cleansed and included. In this great reversal, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. And this kingdom, both in enactment and proclamation, is good news for those who are destitute and living in poverty.
The kingdom of God is multifaceted, an eschatological diamond, that has multiple aspects, and Jesus’ teaching in the parables found in Matthew 13 that it is in some sense it cannot easily be pinned down. Let us briefly explore these parables.
Parable of the Sower (v1-8, 18-23)
In this parable, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who sows seeds. The seeds fall on different types of ground, resulting in various types of growth. Some seeds are eaten by birds, some fall on rocky ground, others among thorns, and some fall on good soil. Jesus explains that this parable (v19) is about those who hear the word of the kingdom and illustrates the different responses to Jesus' proclamation of the in-breaking of the kingdom. The kingdom message is intended to take root in people's hearts, but it does not at times develop to its full potential because of opposition. This opposition comes from 'the evil one' (v19), from the state of the hearts of the hearers—those who have no root in themselves (v21), tribulation and persecution (v21), and from the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (v22). For others, the kingdom message bears immense fruit and fulfills, and seemingly exceeds, its potential. In this parable, we see that the message of the kingdom, although good news, does not always in every case result in kingdom fruit. There is opposition from Satan, the systems, and structures of domination (the world), opposition and persecution, and from desire to accumulate wealth. Despite this opposition, the message of the kingdom should be freely shared, and at times, and in various places, kingdom fruit and transformation will break through. The parable of the sower reminds us that the kingdom has not arrived in its fullness but is running parallel to the anti-kingdom. Nevertheless, it is breaking in.
Parable of the Weeds (v24-30, 36-43): Jesus continues with his farming metaphors. The farmer and his enemy sow seeds in the same field—the wheat and the weeds. The farmer allows both seeds to grow together until the harvest. At the harvest, the wheat is gathered into the barn, and the weeds are burned up. In the interpretation of this kingdom parable Jesus identifies himself as the farmer who sows good seed. But note here that the seed is not the proclamation of the kingdom but rather the 'sons of the kingdom.' Yes, Jesus is proclaiming a message, but he is also planting a people. Drawing on apocalyptic dualism and tropes, Jesus also identifies another group, the anti-kingdom seed, who are the sons of the evil one. These two groups of seeds will grow, but their fruit, weeds, and wheat, will be seen and judged at the end of the age. This kingdom message is both an encouragement and a warning. It encourages those who follow the Jesus way that they will be vindicated in the age to come, where the 'righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father' (v43). However, those who are of the anti-kingdom will face judgment in the coming age. Parable of Mustard Seed/Leaven (v31-33) Jesus has spoken of two good seeds, the proclamation of the kingdom and the new kingdom community. Jesus also says that the kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds. Jesus is saying here that the kingdom proclamation and kingdom community will grow, at first unnoticed due to its small size, but over time it will grow to a size that all will recognise it. Likewise, the kingdom is like yeast, which permeates and changes the surrounding culture. At first imperceptible, but with the passage of time, it will grow. This is the kingdom—not all arriving at once, but something that grows and spreads.
The Parable of the Treasure/Pearl (44-46) The kingdom often goes unnoticed by some, but for those with the discerning eyes and attentive ears, it holds immeasurable value. It is akin to a treasure, a priceless pearl, and it is worth selling all one possesses to obtain it. This prompts us to contemplate whether the act of relinquishing all one possesses is not merely metaphorical but rather suggests that those who have amassed wealth must be willing to part with it to enter the kingdom. As Jesus emphasizes just a few verses earlier, the deceitfulness of wealth can hinder the growth of the kingdom. Therefore, perhaps the pursuit of all that one owns counters this deceit. In another instance, Jesus instructs the rich young ruler, saying, "One thing you lack: sell everything you have and give it to the poor".
Parable of the Net (47-50)
The message of Jesus regarding the kingdom is akin to a net that gathers a diverse assortment of fish. Only when the net is brought to shore can the fish be sorted—some to be kept and others to be discarded. For Jesus, much like in the parable of the weeds, the current age is characterized by both fishing and sowing. However, an eschatological reckoning is impending, where a judgment will distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. This message provides both encouragement and warning. It encourages faithful endurance in proclaiming the kingdom and living out its implications. Simultaneously, it serves as a warning to those who follow the path of anti-kingdom values. It's important to note some further insights regarding the use of harsh language in this context: (1) Listening to Jesus means confronting uncomfortable truths. (2) As an eschatological prophet, Jesus employs apocalyptic language and metaphors from prophetic literature to provoke reflection and repentance. (3) In other teachings, Jesus speaks of the fall of Jerusalem as the 'end of the age,' a time when kingdom people will be vindicated and anti-kingdom values will be judged. How this eschatological judgment relates to or intersects with the events of AD 70 is a topic worth exploring.
New and Old Treasures (51-52) Jesus concludes his parables by explaining that the kingdom of heaven resembles treasures, both old and new. This means that the kingdom aligns with the scriptures, stories, and promises of old, yet it is also distinctly new. The emergence of the current kingdom was unpredictable, but now that it is here, we can discern how it relates to the treasures of the past.